-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Sunday, October 3, 2010

what is this?

“šū hāda?” 

If there is one Arabic phrase that I can pick out of most all fast-paced conversations I attempt to listen in on, it is "šū hāda?" (pronounced "shoe hada"), or "What is this?"  When I hear this playful phrase used, I equivocate its meaning with something akin to any one of the following statements:*
"What's up with that!?" 
"Come on, seriously?"/"Really?"
"What were/are you thinking?"
"You can't be serious."
"What's going on here?"
"Yeah, right..."
or, the obvious, "What is this?"/"What is this supposed to be?"

*Make sure to imagine I'm saying all of these phrases with a joking and playful smirk on my face.  Realize that most of the time it's a fun, not judgemental, phrase!

While used in said playful manner in everyday conversation among my Arabic speaking friends and colleagues, I think this simple phrase, with its many contextual meanings, can sum up a lot of my experiences and reflections over the last few weeks.  Here goes...
"What's up with that!?"  --This past weekend, our small YAGM contingent went on a small excursion to Ein Gedi Nature Preserve and the Dead Sea as a part of extended orientation.  We had a lovely morning hiking the cliffs surrounding the lowest place on earth, trying to make it above sea level before calling it quits.  After coming face-to-face with a few hyrex's and refreshing ourselves in one of the waterfalls in the park, we spent the afternoon mudding up and floating around in the Dead Sea.  Despite the heat, it was a beautiful and relaxing day in the sun--definitely something to experience!  Now, why is it that we, as foreigners, can freely enjoy these natural wonders of Palestine when our Palestinian neighbors cannot visit these places without special permits?  What's up with that? 
"Seriously?"/"Really?" --In the 11th grade English class that I help out in at school, the students were given an assignment.  The exercise, meant to help improve English skills through creative writing, included three questions of which the students selected one to answer.  The questions:  1) What needs do you have as a young Palestinian student?  2) What could you say to the world to show that Palestinian's are tolerant people and not terrorists?  3) What is special about your country Palestine?  Shocked by the blunt nature of, say, question #2?  I was, but these students are faced with the occupation everyday--even in their classrooms.  Even if #2 was not a question, the occupation would still make its way into their written prompts.  For instance, many of their answers to question #1 included that they, as students, need equal opportunities to use resources that they, as Palestinians, are denied.  Now, those who answered #2 suggested that if people only came to experience Palestine, they would quickly understand Palestinians are not only tolerant but extremely generous and hospitable.  If the world (especially the U.S.) could only see through the fog of media sources and into the hearts of the people, maybe we'd see things a little differently in the States (where we hold life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the highest regard).  The answer to #3?  Yes, Palestine is special because of its religious value through the locational Holy sites, but the students made sure to focus on the rich culture steeped in tradition and community.  Yes, it is a land... but how quickly we forget about the people.  Really world?  Why can't we take a step back and see Palestine through the eyes of its youth?  What is this that these students even have these questions to answer let alone the fact that the world seldom listens to their response. Come on, seriously?

"What were/are you thinking?" --As you may have heard on the news, there was great unrest last week around Old City Jerusalem.  A Palestinian man was shot by an Israeli private security guard in the Silwan neighborhood just outside of Old City early in the morning.  At the man's funeral on the Temple Mount later that day at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, riots broke out and reports of Palestinians throwing stones at Israelis surfaced.  That is a very bare bones synopsis of the day's events.  Still, what were they thinking, those who threw stones?  Now--what are you thinking?  Yes, violence is not the answer--is NEVER the answer--but did you know that stones are thrown by Israelis AT Palestinians, too?  For instance, Israeli settlers have thrown stones at passing Palestinian children walking home from school in Hebron.  Not everything makes the news...  What a good time for a cliche-- "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."  ...Let's try and open our eyes.  What are you thinking, now?

"You can't be serious." --The settlement freeze just ended.  I definitely have to do more reading on this, but I do know that the ending of the moratorium on settlement construction only means that the settlements that have been in the process of building through the moratorium (yeah they were still building illegally) can now continuing building legally?  Or is it still illegal?  A lot still to learn on this topic.  All I can say right now is, "You can't be serious."

"What's going on here?"  --The West Bank is split into different zones to determine what authority is responsible for that land.  Thus, there is a portion of the land that is under complete Isreali rule.  Ironically, because one needs a permit (which are hard to come by) to build anything on these lands, Israel is helping to preserve the Palestinian landscape that is slowly dwindling away.  Benji Boyadgian, an architect and artist, who happens to be the son of my friends' landlords, currently has an exhibit of black and white water color paintings depicting the "Vanishing Landscapes" of Palestine.  I was able to make it to the opening of the exhibit in Bethlehem and my jaw dropped at how beautiful and simple such a landscape could be.  It's odd to look at what appear to be simple paintings while knowing how complex the actual painting process can be.  I encounter similar dichotomous thoughts when I walk down the streets here everyday.  Life appears (and is) normal, but there is such a complexity to it that I can't even fathom.  I can only continue to ask, "What's going on here?"
"Yeah, right..." --Despite all that is going on here, there is still much reason for celebration, so here's a funny little anecdote regarding what participating in a celebration may entail.  So I finally got in touch with members of the Scouts with whom I hoped to play my trumpet.  My timing was impeccable.  I inquired about playing with the Scouts on a Tuesday morning, was told to come to practice that evening, and was marching alongside the Scouts in a celebratory parade for Bishop Younan, the newly elected President of the Lutheran World Federation, the next afternoon.  I have to admit that when they told me that within 24 hours of practicing with them for the first time I would be marching through the streets of Beit Sahour with them, trumpet in hand, my first thought was--"yeah right!"  While I expected to "walk alongside my neighbor" through the model of accompaniment this year, I did not expect that to include marching, too!  Thank goodness for their welcoming and gracious spirit--loved every step of that small life journey.  From what I've been told, it appears this was the first of many events I'll be able to participate in with the Scouts.
"What is this?"/"What is this supposed to be?" --Still in the process of figuring this one out.  For now, this is learning.  This is discovering.  This is struggling.  This is loving.  What is this?  A place that never ceases to catch me off guard, continuously surprises me around every corner, and perpetually gives me a lot to think about at the end of the day.  So, what do you think?  What is this? 

“šū hāda?” --A girl trying to figure things out... time to turn the brain off, and let the heart do the learning.  Peace to you all! 

 "There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm." ~Willa Cather

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